Can One Exercise too Much?

Can One Exercise too Much?

The short answer to the question is YES! A pattern of chronic exercise in pursuit of extreme or narrowly focused fitness goals can trigger increased cravings for quick energy carbohydrates, inhibit fat metabolism, compromise immune function, exhaust the body’s stress management mechanisms, and break down lean muscle tissue. Yes, I did say, too much exercise can indeed break down lean muscle tissue. In today’s society, it is unfortunate that many believe they must exercise more to get better results. However, it is important to understand how to exercise effectively and patiently without becoming chronic.

Chronic exercise stimulates hormonal changes in the body that actually promote fat storage. We have seen this many times in our practice regarding persons who are doing intense workout sessions five or more times per week. There is simply not enough rest to recover. This often results in the retention of 10 pounds or more excess weight, due to fat storage. This builds incredible frustration with the individual. Because they are misled by media hype, the false belief arises that they are not working hard enough. Some trainers even perpetuate this false belief. We certainly are not knocking the trainers; we are just providing guidance for them to do their job better.

A chronic cardio pattern has been shown to obstruct immune system function, destroy white blood cells, elevate cortisol levels, suppress testosterone levels, and trigger systemic inflammation. As you might infer, adding testosterone therapy to a self-imposed dysfunctional system will not provide the desired results. It may only make the situation worse over time. Testosterone is an adaptive, muscle building, mood elevating, cognitive performance enhancing, anti-aging hormone for both males and females, while cortisol is the primary catabolic stress hormone. These two hormones antagonize each other, so chronically elevated cortisol will suppress testosterone. When we exercise, too much we have abused the body’s inflammatory balance. A work out is certainly beneficial, in that it elevates body temperature and metabolic rate. Too much, however, can lead to chronic inflammatory patterns that elevate the risk of many diseases.

We advise doing the following in regard to exercise:

1. Maintain an active lifestyle. Avoid becoming sedentary at all costs. This means making a point to stand more at work, walk more, and simply move more as a pattern of everyday life.

2. Conduct very infrequent sessions of high-intensity training throughout the week. Make these sessions random. They can total 2 to 3, and sometimes 4 sessions per week. Make sure not to overtrain one body part or joint combination. Mixing it up is a critical key. 

3. Conduct regular sessions of steady aerobic type of training. This may consist of treadmill, walking, jogging, elliptical, rowing machine, Stairmaster, etc.

And one more general rule to add to the equation which is critically important: 

Never, and I mean never, use exercise as the main mechanism to managing your weight. Your greatest return investment will come from balanced nutritional practices, effective stress management, and sufficient sleep.

Put this knowledge into practice immediately. Your body will love it, and the results will show themselves over a lifetime.


By Doctors Mark & Michele Sherwood

Mark is a doctor in nutrition and Michele is a medical doctor. They are authors of a number of best-selling health and wellness books and lead The Functional Medical Institute, a wellness-based medical practice in Tulsa, OK.

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